For the last ten weeks or so I have been living mainly in Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland’s political system and egalitarian being were at the core of the travel proposal I made last fall when applying for the particular scholarship that would provide the opportunity. I knew that it couldn’t be as perfect in reality as it was on paper, but that didn’t stop me from building up my own personal North Atlantic utopia.Iceland has ranked #1 in the global gender gap index for the last three or four years. They’re #1 in literacy. They are #1 in the global peace index and have been #1 in 3 out of the last 5 years with an interesting break in 2009 following the economic collapse. The population is under 350,000 people which for my anarchist friends probably makes plenty of sense. They have universal healthcare, tuition-free education at the University level and no standing army. They politically engaged and informed about current events and host voter turnout rates usually in the 85%+ range. This year’s election had a turnout rate of 81% and everyone is freaking out about it being so low….you see what I mean? For some context – the US presidential election saw a turnout rate of nearly 54%.
Oh and MAY I MENTION they have a limited prison system. And by that I mean they have one prison. And it’s not like the US prisons. It’s a rehabilitative prison and the folks there have access to real medical care and therapy. I’ve heard people complain that they are “too comfortable” but I imagine if you have a wide ranging social infrastructure that provides for basic needs and seeks to actively eliminate poverty you won’t see people committing crimes just to get three squares a day, amirite? Yes. I am right -because Iceland also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. And besides, when the prison is full (it holds around 60-70 people), and it rarely is full, people just wait until someone gets out to serve their sentence. Oh and there’s no death penalty. Oh and the maximum sentence is 16 years.
YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN? DO YOU!?!!?!?
Siggh…..in addition to all of this they are quite LGBTQ friendly, though the whitest place I have ever seen in my life. They passed a marriage equality bill unanimously in 2010 almost as an afterthought….they were all chilling being white and having an excellent tolerance to the cold when someone said “oh – hey – everyone’s talking about gay marriage. We should probably do that, show we’re on board. I mean, there’s not a lot of economic advantage to marriage in a socialist country, but all the same, let’s spread it on.” And then everyone was all like “aye.” And that’s it. Until this summer their Prime Minister was a legally married radical lesbian. Boom.
It doesn’t even end there, though. Iceland is a geological anomaly. It’s situated directly on top of the mid-atlantic ridge (that’s how it formed at all, way out here in the ocean) and exists halfway on the N. American tectonic plate and halfway on the Eurasian plate. As a result – VOLCANOES EVERYWHERE! But mostly under glaciers (lots of flooding). And because it only recently (compared to other masses) emerged from the ocean, everything is still wild. Recent (1700s) giant eruptions still have large percentages of the land looking like the lunar landing. Lava fields as far as the eye can see!!! They’ve only recently started putting on heavy moss and lichen coats, so the soil in these areas is thin to nonexistent. Apparently there were some trees in Reykjavik around the time of settlement (870 +/- 2) but SOMEBODY harvested them all (I’m looking at you, original Norwegian Vikings).
There are some reforestation…or…forestation efforts, rather, but the only viable spots are around the edge of the island as the interior is nothing but highlands and hidden volcanoes waiting to bring forth new basalt.
And I mentioned the glaciers? And there are a lot of sheep. It’s great. Except the daylight is all kooky through the year. Like midnight sun in summer and 4 hours of daylight in the depths of winter. But whatever – they eat a lot of fish and that helps. Also they have astounding rates of alcoholism. For coping with that SAD shit, it seems.
Did I mention the President and Prime Minister are in the phone book and that everyone is called by their first name?
But ALAS, my friends. Things haven’t turned out to be quite as lovely as I had hoped. Everything I say is true but there’s still probably some racism. I can’t be sure because I’m white as hell, too, but this old woman uses the n-word to describe people with dark hair and eyes, like me. Someone tried to explain how it isn’t the same because it’s like…some…derivative of a word that means black and dark….uhhhhhh……but….I haven’t been able to find an expert on the matter, so…there’s that. Also, as a general rule, where there are white people there is white privilege and racism.
There’s no history of oppressing people of color specifically in Iceland as far as I know, but they sure as hell cash in on that European whiteness and whatnot (i.e. not being invaded and ruled by US and UK from 1944- 2004, but instead just hosting bases and receiving the benefit of lots of US spending on infrastructure (Keflavik airport). Call it a hunch, but I feel like if they were an island nation of brown-skinned people with no military they’d be a U.S. territory alongside Puerto Rico.
The other thing is that for the most “feminist friendly” place on earth, they sure do have a lot of rape. Iceland has the highest rate of rape of all the Scandinavian countries. It’s lower than the rate in the US but the rates of official reporting and prosecution are as bad as anywhere else in the world. In addition there is a similar breakdown in “types of rape” that function to make the rape of someone who is unconscious termed “abuse.” The penalty for rape (has to be “violent enough”) is the maximum sentence – 16 years – while the penalty for “abuse” is 6 years.
While this is a stouter punishment than the US typically doles out (though we know harsher punishments don’t prevent crime…), prosecution rates render this effectively meaningless. I mean, the US used to consider rape a crime punishable by death – if you were the “right kind of father’s property” and not just some white lower class woman….and don’t even bother if you’re a woman of color of any class. It’s symbolic of a false ideal.
I’ve heard ONE GUY make light of it to the tune of “well we were settled by Vikings, what do you expect?” and while it’s true that 62% of the women in the original class of settlers were mostly stolen women from the Hebrides and forced into marriage, I mean is that the kind of thing you want to compare yourself to?
So I bring this up as an interesting contrast point – with the exception of the story I am going to tell you in a minute, I have not been catcalled, grabbed, ogled, groped, hit on inappropriately, “accidentally” brushed up against, or even leered at from a distance…probably. It was one of the strangest sensations of my life, sadly, to be completely free of that constant worry. I didn’t have to watch my drink or hang onto my bag for dear life or anything. It’s so straightforward. And the people are super-sexually active. No sex-shaming and slut-shaming. People just fuck all the time. Safely. They have real sex-ed.
So why the high rate of rape? I don’t know. But I read something that suggests that an unusually large percentage of these rapes involved children under the age of 16 and that rates of rape with male survivors are higher than those of peer nations. So I’m not really sure what’s going on. Money isn’t put into researching the crimes and probably half or more of folks who seek help with rape crisis center don’t trust the system enough to press charges and don’t want to go through the ordeal with which we are all so familiar. I don’t know what the typical reaction to a rape survivor is in this society, but I suppose we could imagine that it’s not exactly welcoming.
Icelandic Feminist Activist Hildur – famous for being constantly banned from facebook for publicly posting death threats made against her has a Tumblr called: Men who hate women. On it she posts misogynistic comments made specifically by Icelandic men. It was pretty devastating to my whole “Iceland is perfect” theory, but I’d rather know the truth, I guess. It’s why I started investigating rape in Iceland, so I’m very happy I found it.
Please enjoy the rest of these photos!! I am so ashamed of how bad of a photographer I am….but I highly recommend seeing it for yourself if you can someday. You’ll see what I mean. This waterfall is called Skogafoss
A bit of glacier melting — It’s called Solheimajokull.